Wednesday, 20 March, 2019

FDA Postponing Some Food Inspections As Shutdown Drags On, Commissioner Says

Food inspections Modal Trigger Getty Images
Priscilla Morrison | 11 January, 2019, 22:58

The agency is still conducting inspections of foreign food coming into the country but under its shutdown contingency plan regular inspections of domestic facilities are suspended, raising concerns that Americans could be at higher risk for outbreaks of foodborne pathogens.

Late a year ago, an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened more than 60 people.

The government shutdown has put America's food supply at risk despite the best efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, experts warn. "There's no question of whether it's business as usual at FDA", FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told NBC News.

But the agency is skipping the 160-or-so routine food inspections it usually performs each week. FDA inspectors look for issues at processing facilities like unsanitary conditions and infestations and also inspect food for salmonella and E. coli contamination.

More news: U.S. cancer deaths continue to decline

"We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown", Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb said he's considering recalling 10 percent of the food inspection team because it's "the right thing to do for public safety".

According to The Washington Post, Gottlieb said he was working on plans to bring back the 150 now furloughed inspectors as early as next week to specifically focus on high-risk facilities after the shuttering of the government forced him to cancel 50 high-risk inspections. While those workers still wouldn't be paid until after the shutdown ends, Gottlieb said he was setting up an agency travel account to help those inspectors keep large balances off their personal credit cards. "But there are 80k food facilities in the U.S.", Helena Bottemiller Evich, an agriculture reporter for Politico, noted.

Foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million people each year and kill 3,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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